Preserve The Spirit of Panama’s Diablos Rojos

Yesterday my friend Omar who writes the blog Lingua Franca had a post about the demise of the colorful buses, Diablos Rojos, that rule and terrorize the streets of Panama City…

I wrote the following comment:

I hear you, Omar, about the need to modernize and improve on the urban transportation system in Panama City, but the disappearance of the Diablos Rojos will be another step in the homogenization of the city into another bland, characterless place on a map. They give the city, and the country, a dash of color. A zestfulness that makes the city unique. Take that away and what have you got? A bunch of high rise buildings nearly indistinguishable from Miami, Casco Viejo which, to me, is reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans or the Battery in Charleston, South Carolina.

As wonderful as a new fleet of buses will be, they certainly aren’t going to go any faster on Via Espana during rush hour.

New, modern, air conditioned buses are definitely needed, but I think they should be painted up just like the Diablos. It they aren’t then I think Panama has lost a little bit of its vibrant soul and the country and its people will be a little poorer for it.

He immediately agreed with me saying:

Your idea of painting the new buses like Diablos Rojos is a wonderful idea. Panama Tourist Bureau could organize a contest for this creative project, making Panama the only country in the world where buses are folk paintings in motion.

I think you just hit the nail right in the head. I would suggest writing to the Panama Tourist Bureau, since the Minister has a direct access to President Martinelli. He was the campaign manager of Martinelli.

He understands marketing very well, and the unique buses would be a major tourist attraction. How about writing a blog about this idea? I will start tomorrow spreading the word. You could do the same with your blog as well. Maybe we could get Don Ray’s cooperation. He’s a highly respected person in Panama.

I am sending the following letter:

I apologize for writing this in English but I don’t feel my Spanish is adequate enough to express what I wish to say.

There is little doubt that the public transportation system in Panama City needs to be modernized and it’s great that the outmoded Diablos Rojos are being taken off the street. However, the loss of color and vibrancy they lend to the streets of the city should not be taken lightly. They give Panama City a zest that contributes greatly to its vitality. What would the streets of London, England, be like without its red, double-decker buses? Paris without the Eiffel Tower? New York City without the Statue of Liberty?

Replacing the Diablos Rojos with modern generic buses will make Panama City nearly indistinguishable from Miami, Florida, as a hot and humid place with high rise buildings and everyone speaking Spanish in the streets. If you Google “Diablos Rojos” you find 491,000 hits for the term, and the images section shows 62,400 results though not all of them are for buses.

For years one of the iconic images of the city of New Orleans was the Saint Charles streetcar. While it was a major tourist attraction it was more than that. It was a mode of transportation for a sizable portion of the city’s population. When the city decided to install more routes for street cars they wisely chose to make the new trolley cars look like the old ones actually adding to the character of the city.

I think Panama City would be well served if the new, modern and much needed buses were to be painted up in the tradition of the current Diablos Rojos. Doing so would accomplish several things: it would preserve a cherished local tradition, it would continue to be something tourists delight in besides the Canal, and it would also provide employment to the wonderfully creative artists who decorate today’s fleet of buses.

Losing this colorful part of the fabric of Panama City is to cut away part of its vibrant soul and the city, the country and its people will be a little poorer for it.

Omar agrees and we are on a campaign to get the new buses painted like the old ones. If you agree with us, send your own letter to: Mr. Salonpon Shamah, Minister of the Autoridad de Turismo de Panamá (Panana Tourist Authority).  His e-mail address is:  Phone number  (507) 526-7110.  Fax:  Fax: (507) 526-7111.


Filed under panama, Retirement Abroad

2 responses to “Preserve The Spirit of Panama’s Diablos Rojos

  1. I think the removing of the old buses was a good thing. I also think that painting the new buses like the old buses is a great idea. Maintain the culture and remove the danger of the ill maintained transportation. Everyone wins.

    Send a letter to the Minister, Don. Omar is going to post it on his blog and is also going to be sending letters to the editors of the Panamanian newspapers. The more people who write the better the possibility it could happen.

  2. Lots of time to read and explore today – we finally started getting some serious rain from the leftover feeder bands of Hurricane Alex, and for hours I’ve felt like I was in the tropics!

    The Diablos Rojos are wonderful! They remind me of the mammy lorries of West Africa, which often were as vibrant and had the added fun of painted slogans that expressed the attitudes and business philosophy of the driver: e.g., God’s Time Be Best Time or Dash Mean Dash (which means, a little extra cash on top and I’ll get you there faster!)

    I hope your campaign is successful. That’s a pretty persuasive letter you started with.

    Thanks for the compliment. It will be interesting to see if others sign on to the idea.

    As of last Monday we broke a 16 year record for rainfall in Potrerillos Arriba with 41.57 inches of rain! Since then its rained every day and it is right now. Earlier this afternoon it was coming down like gang busters, but it is July.